A Recalibration: Tess Robinson, Coledale
Text KATE PASCOE SQUIRES
Photography KATE PASCOE SQUIRES
I think we all agree by now that it’s impossible to have it all, all the time. Our labels might include business owner, author, boss, mother, wife, daughter, or all of the above in the case of Tess Robinson, but how does this actually play out day to day? And when you’re so busy with all these things, how do we hold onto our sense of self? Sometimes it’s not the big picture that counts. Tess shows us that those tiny moments in between the madness are some of the very sweetest.
The Slowdown. How does that resonate with you?
My Slowdown is a constant work in progress. I’m naturally a really high-energy, all or nothing kind of person, so it’s a huge challenge for me to consciously turn things down a notch and be present. Slowing down has been a big goal of mine for the past couple of years. Running a growing business for 8 years is the ultimate antidote for slowing down, so I’ve had to be really conscious of balancing this crazy fast pace with slow rituals and self-care. For me, slowing down means taking the time to recalibrate, be mindful and do the things that fill you up, rather than being a slave to the ‘shoulds’, the ‘to-do’s and our daily calendar.
You very recently welcomed your daughter to the world – Dylan Magnolia Mae Smith – congratulations. How has her arrival affected your ability to put any kind of slow down into practice?
The thing I’ve found about having Dylan is that she has both slowed me down and made me busier, simultaneously. I’ve found that I have even fewer hours in the day to do all the things that need to be done, but at the same time, I’ve become a hell of a lot more present. Children have a magical ability to bring you into the present moment, losing yourself (and countless hours) in their world. A big challenge for me so far has been the physical slow down associated with having a baby, especially breastfeeding – you are quite literally stuck under a baby for hours each day! In comparison to my days before Dylan, this feels akin to paralysis! Dramatic, I know. Although I must admit, I have learned to soften to the process and now find myself just loving these moments bonding with her and staring at her sweet little face.
Since becoming a mum, have you found it hard to find time for self-care, in whatever form that takes?
Self-care? What’s that? Ha! In short – yes! Prior to Dylan, I was getting massages, facials, osteo, acupuncture, you name it, I was doing it. Hell, I even made it to the dentist once a year! These things feel like a distant memory. My priority is now Dylan, just as it should be. Whilst my sleepless face and breastfeeding shoulders sure do miss the facials and massages, I know that for now, I’m exactly where I need to be. As soon as she’s on a more regular feeding and napping schedule and I’m back on top of things with work, I’ll be able to prioritise these things again. But for now, I find my self-care in the small daily rituals like having my morning coffee on the lounge, and the spilt second I get to splash some cold water on my face each morning. Yesterday, it was as simple as lighting some incense and having a mindful moment for a few minutes whilst she played on the floor. And that’s fine, self-care can be as small or luxurious as you can make it each day, as long as we’re being present and mindful with each of these actions, we can still feel the benefits.
How did you find maternity leave in comparison to running your incredibly successful creative agency, Smack Bang Designs?
I’ve loved mat leave and I feel so privileged to have been afforded this luxury. It’s bloody hard for us business owners to wrangle any time off, let alone 5 consecutive months! I will always cherish this time, especially the 4 weeks off I had before Dylan arrived – it was blissful! I was painting again, spent most days at the beach and nested hard (our house has never looked so schmick and probably won’t ever again).
And then when little D arrived, I was so glad and so grateful that I had time to just simply be with her in complete presence. Learning how to be someone’s Mum is a big job and ensuring that her entrance into the world was a calm, happy one needed my full attention, presence and patience. I’m only just dipping my toes back into work 1-2 days a week and ensuring that I still have the time and headspace for Dylan, as my numero uno priority.
Maternity leave as compared to running a growing business is worlds apart. One is a dynamic, creative, exciting and ever-changing daily race. Whilst the other is a slow, nurturing and tiring (but oh so, blissful!) cocoon. The one constant is the relentlessness of both! I sure am grateful for business teaching me resilience, as I think this is paramount to coping with all the throes of being a new mum.
Do you have flexibility in your slow down practices or are there things you simply must do daily? Has this changed since becoming a mum?
Flexibility is my mantra for the moment! There’s nothing like the irregularity and unpredictability of a baby to shake down every notion you had of routine and expectation. It wasn’t until Dylan came along that I realised just how much I thrive in having a strong routine each day. A major challenge has been to drop my expectations and ambitions for each day. Prior to Dylan, I would accomplish outrageous amounts of things each day – I was ultra-productive and didn’t ‘waste’ a single minute of my day. Now, I’m lucky to shower and do one small task to feel productive. It’s taken me a few months, but I’ve felt a shift and now feel really proud about that, after all, raising a small human and giving her my 100% is the most ‘productive’ thing I could ever do. So flexibility has become key… I now don’t beat myself up if I can’t make plans, or I don’t get back to every single email. I take each day as it comes; some are cruisy – Dyl sleeps, I get some time to myself, and the house is clean. Other days are total write-offs – the house resembles a war zone, Greenpeace has put my hair on watch for their ‘oil spill’ disasters and Dylan has spent more time crying than sleeping. And it’s all okay, if we’re all still alive, cracking a few smiles and are able to recall the lyrics to Twinkle Twinkle by the end of the day, then I think we’re doing okay.
Do you connect your slow down to any specific place, time or season – or can you tap into it as you need?
The beach and summer are my ultimate slow downs. There is literally not another single place that slows me down and makes me feel more like me than the beach. There’s something so calming about looking out to the horizon and feeling the breadth and space in front of me. I always leave a day at the beach feeling so inspired and alive. It’s my non-negotiable. I’ve lived in walking distance to the beach my entire life and between walking the dog, Sunday pancakes at the beach and meditating down there as often as I can, I feel a real sense of ‘coming home’ each time.
You recently made the move from the city to the small coastal town of Coledale. Tell us about how this move amplified your slow down?
In July of 2017, I threw the ultimate uppercut to city life. I packed my bags (and by bags, I mean 56 boxes and two truckloads of belongings and plants. Mostly plants) and moved my life and my little family, to Coledale. A sweet little suburb just an hour and a bit south of the Sydney chaos tucked in behind the national park.
Life down here is simple. We’ve got the towering escarpment to our West and beautiful coastline to our East and only a few blocks of houses in between. We’re cocooned by stunning landscapes, cheap beer at the local pub and friendly locals with all the time in the world to chat about the weather. Our home is quiet, our mornings slow and our rhythms finally settling into a more manageable pace of life.
Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. My stress levels have plummeted, my budget for parking fines vanished and I’m almost positive my heart rate has actually slowed. After eight years in the big smoke, I’m starting to slow down and feel what it’s like to be ‘Tess’ again.
Have you ever found yourself believing that you just don’t have the time, space or money for any slow down practices?
This is actually a really regular bad habit of mine. The ‘I don’t have time’ excuse is like a virus! It comes into my system, wreaks havoc and then I finally ‘medicate’ (with self-care rituals) and prove to myself that I do in fact have time, and it leaves me again, for a while at least. In this crazy fast paced world we have endless to-do’s and tasks that constantly vie for our attention, unfortunately, it’s these things that scream the loudest and get our attention most of the time. The slow down practices are more quietly spoken and tend to whisper, not shout, so it’s far easier to push them out and ignore them. But as we all know, it’s only a matter of time before that backfires on us and we need them more than ever.
Before Dylan, I was in a really great habit of scheduling time in advance for these things. I knew that every morning I would have time set aside to meditate, every fortnight I would have a massage booked in, every six weeks I would get a facial and most Sunday nights would be a bath-wine-face-mask combo. I’m looking forward to getting back in the routine of taking care of myself as soon as baby Dylan will allow it!
You are well known for your positive workplace initiatives, that look after your employees as much as your clients. This includes an annual Smack Bang public holiday and allowing employees to work from home. Can you tell us a little bit about this philosophy?
I am constantly in pursuit of building a team that feels like a family. Over the last eight years in business, I’ve begun to slowly refine and understand what ingredients make the perfect team and how to foster a community that thrives.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve really been committed to us working smarter, not harder, and that includes taking space when we need it so that we can work more productively, with more creativity, objectivity and gusto.
I often think about productivity in relation to archery – we have to pull back and take a breath before we are able to aim and shoot ourselves with decent force into the world. By stopping to draw a breath (and our arrow) we’re more able to project ourselves at full speed and with greater focus.
What kind of results do you see from being so forward thinking?
By giving my team flexible work conditions we give them the opportunity to feel refreshed, rejuvenated and with an extra pep in our step, when we need it the most. Our team are able to get stuck back into work with a new burst of intensity, enthusiasm and joy for what we do! This means that our clients reap the rewards of an arrow that’s freshly sharpened and leaving its bow with more creativity, audacity and chutzpah than before.
Do you ever suffer from stress?
Yes, for sure! Stress is a big one for me – managing four businesses, house renovations, and now a baby, all while trying to drink a green smoothie and meditate here and there! Haha, ahhh the pressure. I think it’s only human to feel stress, especially when you are trying to do the best you can, in every aspect of your life. For me it’s things like, never feeling ‘finished’ with work, not being able to fully switch off as well as having people waiting on me – I hate the sense that I’m not delivering my end of the deal on time. If people are waiting for me, I get anxious.
To get me back on track, it’s a matter of shifting my perspective and remembering that no one is going to be harmed if I don’t reply to that email. The world is full of bigger problems that are much larger than my inbox.
On a day to day basis, do you ever get away from the ‘doing’ and into the ‘being’?
Yes, as small as they may be, I have simple rituals that bring me into the ‘being’. Simple things like coffee, meditation and waking up to the sunrise out my window. And even more than that I now have Dylan – she brings me into the present like nothing I’ve ever experienced before!
For those of us who are walking our own slow down path, do you have any ideas to share that might assist us on our journey?
My advice would be to just do what you can. Start small and find the rituals and daily practices that bring you to a slower pace. It might just be noticing the steam rising from your kettle, or taking five minutes to really enjoy your cuppa. Then, build it up from there. A slower life will look different for everyone, so just experiment with things that make you feel good and then simply, try to get more of that in your life.